It's not just basketball games that go down at The Cage, the fenced-in court on West 4th Street in New York City. In Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court, nine short stories introduce a handful of players and spectators there on one July day.
I'm calling Charles R. Smith the point guard in Pick-Up Game, since it's his photographs and poems that lead in to the stories that comprise the book. Told in different voices, from different perspectives, each story picks up where the previous story leaves off. As co-editor Marc Aronson writes in the Afterword, "We chose the setting and the date and gave each author a time slot. Each author knew who was on the court because we didn't let an author write a new story until the previous one was done. Each writer came on the court knowing who was playing, who had won, but ready to tell his or her own story." (p. 164)
As a whole, Pick-Up Game is a dynamic collection–some of the stories are funny, some are poignant, but all have strong voices and are written with verve. Smith's poems, written in various formats, celebrate the game and serve as a sort of introduction to the following story; I particularly love "My Boys" (p. 35-36). The cast of characters is diverse, both in terms of skin color and life experiences. Many appear in multiple stories, which provides additional flair. It's fun for readers, and also a bit fascinating to see the different sides of characters like Caesar, first introduced in Willie Perdomo's "Mira Mira," but who pops up in several other stories.
If there is a drawback to this format, it's that some of the stories were so strong, so interesting that I wanted to keep reading about some of the characters. Like KaySaan, from Bruce Brooks' "Laws of Motion," a 6' 10" self-described nerd from a basketball-loving family who doesn't know anything about basketball himself. Or Cochise, the Mohawk ironworker in Joseph Bruchac's "Head Game." And, though he never tells his own story, Waco.
Besides Perdomo, Brooks, and Bruchac, the rest of Pick-Up Game’s list of authors consists of Walter Dean Myers, Sharon G. Flake, Robert Burleigh, Rita Williams-Garcia, Adam Rapp, and Robert Lipsyte. The contributors, the short length of the book (160 pages, excluding the Afterword and biographical information about the authors), and the energy of the stories make this an especially good choice for reluctant readers and basketball fans in general. For folks who aren't basketball fans, while most of the stories are from the perspective of hardcore players and fans, a handful of stories, like Flake's "Virgins are Lucky" and Rapp's "Just Shane," are not.
Book source: public library.
Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.